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Value of Opposition

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(August 24, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I respond to the article ‘The curse of unprincipled oppositions’ by Milinda Rajasekera, published in Sri Lanka Guardian.

As per my observations, the real opposition of the Government of Sri Lanka is the Leadership of the Global Tamil Community. There is the Apparent and there is the Real. The legal opposition is as per votes. The real opposition is known as per the actions of the Government. Where the real opposition is facilitated to express itself, the country would be empowered by the investments of all people in the system of democracy.

The author says ‘British parliamentary system and traditions hold that the opposition is the “government-in-waiting” and that its main task is to oppose whatever government moves that run counter to the national interest.’

When the British left Ceylon, without an appropriate system to replace themselves, majority race resorted to ‘showing’ that they were in charge and the Sinhala Only policy was seen as confirmation of this ‘Show and Tell’ – who is in charge!

If the apparent opposition in parliament at that time (LSSP led by Dr. N.M.Perera), had acted in National interest and shown strong opposition that their supporters could ‘see’ to complete the picture of ‘race related language policy’ – we would have prevented the 1958 civil riots. It was the educated Tamil Community that fought against it – despite the real threat of loss of lives. This pattern has continued and will continue so long as Tamils as a Community are interested in governance issues at the national and international levels. To my mind, without the involvement of Tamils at National level governance, Sri Lanka’s status in the International Community would be low.

The concept of Opposition, to my mind is based on the Laws of Nature – according to which there is an Opposite side to everything physical. Under the hierarchical system – we paid the costs first and received the benefits later. Those who practiced discipline and forewent ego pleasure developed the opportunity to enjoy positions of high status. Towards this one had to stay in one place/community. Time and Place are the agents of change. If we freeze Place and therefore stayed at one place – ‘Time Will Tell’.

That brings to mind an incident at the University of NSW. I questioned a Senior Academic-Administrator about not getting a certain position I was interviewed for. He said ‘Time Will Tell’. Yes, it did tell me – through the dismissal of the Vice Chancellor who sent me to prison for ‘questioning these practices’ and not recognizing this high-performing black female migrant as his natural opposition to complete the picture at the level the University had the potential to be raised to. Likewise in Sri Lanka – where high performers of the Tamil Community were ‘punished’ instead of being taken as the Natural Opposition of the Government.

It is the Opposition we choose to recognize in action – that confirms our level of Democratic Governance. The Opposition chosen by the Sri Lankan Government is the LTTE. It is NOT the intellectual opposition combined with Natural Opposition Looks. It is armed attack vs armed attack. Hence the deterioration of the country for which both communities are responsible. If indeed the JVP and the LTTE had combined forces and they would have if not for the claim of racial discrimination based on which LTTE was mentally supported by Tamils – then we are likely to have seen a people movement strong enough to topple the Government – as we are seeing in Libya now. But Tamils in multiracial areas were attacked by Sinhalese civilians. Hence the separation continues and weakens the country.

At the physical level – the value of Opposition is seen and known through Male & Female being needed for continuity of life. This is a power that needs to be recognized. To my mind, anti discrimination laws are based on this power inherent in the Natural Opposition which is attractive and creative. This is further confirmed by the Principles of Diversity and Affirmative Action. So long as a Tamil remains a Tamil in Sinhalese area and a Sinhalese remains a Sinhalese in Tamil area , that diversity and natural opposition would be positive – as positive as it is in the animal kingdom. The moment one comes into the other’s area of work and belief – the Natural advantage is ‘lost’ and hence the chaos and conflict. Devolution helps us to stay within our natural areas and/or the areas / positions for which we have worked actively and are able to show on merit basis from zero base – that we are the winners of that position.

Where there is Natural Opposition within Sinhalese or Tamils respectively - they do not need the other to be a wholesome democracy through belief alone. In Tamil areas for example – there is natural enhancement of women leadership – largely due to war widows. The moment these women think that they would be provided for – they would lose this leadership opportunity.

The author says ‘British parliamentary system requires that the opposition should be strong enough to hold the government to account. And for this it has to have free access to the country’s resources and information about government activities. The right to full freedom of expression and unrestricted access to all media are also considered essential. Equipped with such attributes the opposition is required to conduct itself responsibly and effectively to ensure good governance’

As per my observations, the real opposition of the Government of Sri Lanka is the Leadership of the Global Tamil Community. There is the Apparent and there is the Real. The legal opposition is as per votes. The real opposition is known as per the actions of the Government.
Any Opposition that has the authority to express the ‘other’ half of the Government – has to limit itself to only half the resources needed to produce the whole. Information about Government activities works against the independence of the opposition. Once we start ‘seeing’ the other side’s work – we would lose our independence. Hence it is important not to recognize the work of the Government at actual level – but to take it at policy level and complete the picture at policy level. If the Opposition spends less than the Government to complete the picture – the Opposition is more efficient than the Government. If the Opposition shows a better picture than the Government for the same level of spending – then the Opposition is more effective than the Government. At all times, the independence of the Opposition needs to be maintained at work level. Here one needs to consciously separate Government Administration which is everybody’s business, from political work. Hence the separation of powers between the Executive Government and the Judiciary. The separation is needed to independently complete the picture from the side of the citizens. The discretionary powers used by the leaders makes the difference.

Dr. Suryanarayan in a recent article quotes Prof. Ghosh “Kachchativu was the most typical case of a personal equation, playing the role of diplomacy. When the negotiations had virtually failed, and the Indian official delegation was virtually pressurizing Indira Gandhi not to give up India’s claim on the islet, Sirimavo Bandaranaike made a personal appeal to Indira Gandhi to come to her rescue, as it would otherwise spell political disaster for her. Indira Gandhi appreciated Mrs Sirimavo Bandaraniake’s predicament and manipulated the situation in such a way that it became a fait accompli even before the Indian delegation could react. Sirimavo Bandaranaike remembered this gesture as late as 1990 with immense gratitude”.

This was due to the discretionary powers of the leader. Once when my complaint of racial discrimination was heard in the Australian Federal Court – Justice Gyles who is known to be legally smart and clever, seriously listened to both sides. My Opposition was represented by a reputed Barrister – Dr. John Griffith. I represented myself. We went through the arguments on the basis of my performance – and I successfully established that the young lady who was my supervisor had recognized my work to be of good standard. In confirmation of this she signed the time sheets to be submitted to the Agency through which I was hired for that position. During cross examination by me that lady said in court words to the effect ‘Gaja! if you had done as I asked you to do, I would not have terminated your contract’ . The hearing soon came to a conclusion and Justice Gyles asked me whether according to me the discrimination was ‘conscious or subconscious?’ I said ‘Subconscious’. The Opposition Barrister Dr. Griffith – who was in the same situation as Mrs. Banadaranaike in the above matter – jumped up and said to the Judge that any ruling against his young client would ruin her career. Like Mrs. Gandhi – Justice Gyles handed over legal win to the Opposition. After some pain (which was nothing compared to my pain at the University of NSW) – I forgave Justice Gyles because he was the only one to go through my complaint systematically to rule out whether or not merit was the reason. Others seemed to assume that there was no need to find out how I had fared on the basis of merit of my work. Justice Gyles showed respected for my right to be assessed on merit basis. I remember going to St Mary’s Cathedral and crying after the judgment was delivered. To me that meant I had handed the matter over to Divine Powers. Today, I am able to recall and appreciate my goodness as well as cleverness in defeating not only the Barrister but also the Judge – on merit basis – through step by step discriminatory analysis.

If Tamils in Sri Lanka are facilitated to do this – through an appropriate legislation parallel to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, that would be a good alternative to Devolution of Powers. It is better to do that where the politics of the issue is overwhelming for the Government. Here in Australia, the above law is not actively practiced due to economic reasons. But to those who genuinely practice it – there is closure at personal level. That closure is likely to be through defeats – due to discretionary powers. But knowing the Truth of our environment is more powerful and protective than winning as a minority without the power to lift the win to national level and beyond to the area covered by the Common Principles of Racial Equality. Everyone who accepts defeat knowing that they have won in real terms – is a true owner of that system. They naturally rise higher than the one who delivered the judgment to satisfy local groups.

The author says ‘The usual government-opposition tussle over what should be the solution to the North-East problem has now emerged. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and some sections in his government show keenness in solving this problem, but they nevertheless are hesitant in presenting their blueprint, obviously for fear that the opposition parties would use it for political gain.’

Fear is the opposition of desire. Those who desire political gain would fear political loss if they stayed in one place. If therefore the loss in one electorate is made up through gain in another – for example in North and East – then one is even and wholesome - then and there. The Opportunity is with the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) at local level votes and with the Tamil Diaspora for Global status. Whichever political party wins this opposition, is the better Opposition to the other and therefore the better Government.

The genuine work and sacrifices of Tamils towards self-governance, including in the countries they have migrated to, would not be in vain.

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